A while back, a friend of mine, knowing my penchant for personal analytics, call my attention to a new device being manufactured by Automatic called the Automatic Link. This device captures data about your driving the way a FitBit device captures data about your activity. At the time, it was not available, but it eventually became available, and a few weeks ago, I got my hands on one. I had it just in time for our trip down to Florida, which is where I really put it to use.
The device is designed to plug into the data port on your car that mechanics use to determine problems when the “check engine” light is on. Automatic says that it works with most cars manufactured since 1996. Once plugged in, the device syncs up via BlueTooth 4 to your iPhone and provides all kinds of data about your driving. It captures this data in real-time by communicating with your car’s computer1.
There is an initial setup that syncs the device to your phone. After that, no action is required to track your driving. If the app is running on your iPhone, it automatically detects when the ignition starts and stops, and tracks everything for you. The primary goal of the Automatic Link seems to be saving your money by making you a more fuel efficient driver. Because of this, the device tracks three things that makes you less fuel efficient:
- Fast accelerations
- Hard braking
- Speeds over 70 MPH
You can set an audible alert for each of these so that the device notifies you when any of these things occur in real time. Since I started using the device, I have been dinged for all three, and I can attest that, at least in my car, the alerts are accurate.
The device also tracks your route and mileage and can compute how much your are spending in gasoline costs by being aware of local gas prices. Here is what the first leg of our drive down to Florida looks like in the Automatic Link app on my iPhone:
The device captured our departure time (9:03 am) and where we were departing from (“Home”). It recorded 121.2 miles before engine shutdown a little over 2 hours later. You can see from the section I circled about that I had 1 hard brake, 1 hard acceleration, and spent 37 minutes over 70 MPH. This latter was on I-95 where the speed limit is 70 and I had the cruise control set to 72 MPH. It calculated the cost of gas for that leg at $14.47.
You can click on a trip to get additional details, including a map of the route taken:
Here you can see the actual route. I annotated the screen capture with arrows that show exactly where the hard acceleration happened, and where I was driving over 70 MPH. Another cool feature is that you can see your fuel efficiency (circled above). In the case of this first leg, our Kia Sorento got 29 mpg.
Our longest single leg of driving on our way down to Florida looked liked this:
We drove 209.9 miles in one sitting, which is about as long as the kids can bear before needing some kind of break. You can also see at the top, a summary of the driving for the current week. (You can view previous weeks as well.) The driving score is based on hard braking, hard acceleration and minutes over 70 MPH and can be used to compare yourself to other drivers using the Automatic Link. The higher the score, the more fuel efficient you are driving.
Here is what the route and mileage looked like for that long leg:
Our Kia got 30 mpg on that leg, which impressed me.
The device has some additional features as well. When you shut off the engine, it captures the exact location of your car so that it is easy to find again in a large parking lot.
If your “check engine” light comes on, the device can tell you exactly what the codes are and what they mean–so you know before you even take it into the mechanic or dealer.
The device can also notify emergency services if it detects a crash.
I was pretty impressed by what I’ve seen of the Automatic Link so far. Here are some additional thoughts if you are thinking about getting one yourself:
- After initial setup, you don’t have to do anything, other than make sure your Automatic App is running on your phone. This is key. If it takes an effort to capture data, people are less likely to do it. For example, it takes no effort to capture my activity data by wearing my FitBit Flex, but it does require some effort on my part if I want to capture my meals. So I do the former, but not the latter. One big plus of the Automatic is just that–it is automatic. Drive, and your data is captured.
- Initially, my first few trips didn’t seem to show up, but they did after about a day. This way due to the device receiving a firmware upgrade. I found this out after contacting Automatic’s technical support–which was very good, by the way.
- The hard-braking, hard-acceleration, and speed detection is very accurate. In fact, I turned off the audio warnings for speed because the device would beep each time I went over 70 MPH and it got a little annoying.
- On the Kia, the device sticks out a little too far to put the cover back over the circuit-breaker panel so that it stays open. This doesn’t bother me, but it would be more aesthetically pleasing if the panel could be closed.
- The app works very well on my iPhone 5. I saw no issues with battery life, but then again, my iPhone is usually plugged in while I am in the car so I wouldn’t expect to see any.
- The app is very good about detecting engine ignition and shutoff. Sometimes it takes a few minutes for it to register that you are “currently driving” but it is still capturing the data.
- The data the device collects is not yet downloadable, but that appears to be a feature that Automatic is working on. I am really looking forward to that feature because I can then add that data set to all of the other personal analytics data I capture.
Bottom line: if you are a data hound and want an easy way to track your driving habits and patterns automatically, Automatic is the perfect device.
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- Indeed, it reminds me of that scene in Empire Strikes Back when Han Solo asks C3PO to talk to the computer of the Millennium Falcoln in order to find out what’s wrong with the hyperdrive. ↩
Great write up but I am confused about 1 point: Does the App on the phone need to be running IN ORDER to collect data? or just to transfer collected data TO the phone for Viewing?
i.e. I take the car out for a drive WITHOUT my phone, will the drive still be recorded? and once the paired phone is now within distance, will historical drives sync up for viewing?
Carlo, the instructions emphasize that you need the app running on the iPhone to make it work, but I don’t know if that means for just viewing. I suspect not because there isn’t much to see until you finish driving. At some point I’ll test it out, but everything I can find indicates that you do need the app running in the background.
Hi Jamie, thanks for the great write-up. I work at Automatic and wanted to answer Carlo’s question, if that’s ok.
Yes, you need to have your phone in the car with you on your drive with the app at least running in the background. Automatic uses the GPS from your phone so if it’s not with you, the route and trip data will not be captured. If you have any additional questions, feel free to check out our customer community at http://community.automatic.com. Thanks!
Thanks for the info, Amy!